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THE GOODBYE GIRL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings
Director:  Herbert Ross
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  None
Length:  110 Minutes
Release Date:  January 18, 2000

Film ****

When I was growing up in the 70ís, Neil Simon was in his comedic prime.  I had read most of his published plays, and seen virtually every movie that was either based on one of his productions or that he had written directly for the screen.  Some were good, others not so good, and eventually, the older I got, the more I realized that I had kind of abandoned old Neil and embraced Woody Allen as my favorite New York comic screenwriter.  But for reasons I couldnít tell you, one picture that I had completely missed out on until now was The Goodbye Girl.  I was aware of the movie, and the fact that Richard Dreyfuss had won an Academy Award for it, but I had never seen it.  And I have to tell you, I am inherently sorry that I waited so long.

This film is simply one of the best romantic comedies ever made, largely because itís so much more than just romantic and just comical.  It is a well crafted, structured story with richly drawn and appealing characters that let the words and situations flow naturally and believably from them to create a motion picture experience where nothing spoils the magic.

When Paula (Mason) learns rather unceremoniously that her actor boyfriend has skipped town with only a Dear John letter, itís quite a painful blow.  But insult is soon added to injury when she learns that he sublet their apartment right out from under her and her daughter (Cummings), and now she has to share her place with another actor, Elliot (Dreyfuss).

What I liked about this scenario is the fact that it not only threw wide open the doors of comedic possibilities, but for once, really gives us a good reason why two people thrown together donít like each other at first.  In addition to the underhandedness of the deal, Paula sees in Elliot everything sheís grown to hate about her other boyfriend, and indeed, all boyfriends who have left her over the years in just such a manner.  And Elliot is less than enthused about Paulaís animosity towards him, particularly since their apartment is legally his.  One great moment occurs when Elliot brings home a woman from his play to rehearse with.  She asks if he lives alone.  ďYes, I live alone,Ē he tells her.  ďThe other people who live here live alone, too.Ē

The movie is rich with Simonís legendary wit and his ability to draw the funniest comedy out of real life and all of its scenarios.  There are no cheap laughs, in other words.  Every laugh is a rewarding jewel, because it is real, and it makes the characters and the story so much more real in the interim.

Richard Dreyfuss deserved his Oscar, giving possibly the best performance of his career.  He plays Elliot with a true actorís sensibility, often as though he were always on stage.  He is in love with his words, and he chooses them carefully.  He has an actorís ego, but itís just a mask for some deeper insecurities about his work.  Oh, and wait til you see how he has to play Richard IIIóhysterical!

Equally good is Marsha Mason (whereís her Oscar?) as Paula, the goodbye girl of the title.  When the question is posed as to whether or not she might be able to put aside her past hurt and try love one more timeómaybe with Elliotóitís more than just typical romantic film fodder.  We can feel her lifetime of pain through her performance and Simonís words.  Itís very real.

I also adored young Quinn Cummings as the daughter.  Sheís more than a cute kid on screen, sheís an actress with as much comic timing and expert delivery as her two older co-stars.  All three interact with a great sense of chemistry, and actually seem to be taking each other to new heights in their performances.

I just canít say enough about how much I thoroughly loved this movie, or about how surprised I am at how much I loved it.  Growing rather cynical in my old age, I donít hold much stock in the genre of the romantic comedy anymore.  If I laugh a few times at one, I chalk it up as not being a wasted experience.  But itís been a long time since I fell in love with one and its characters so completely, and thatís just what The Goodbye Girl did to me.  This is a beautiful, funny, charming gem of a movie that I hope no one else will wait as long as I did to experience.

Video ***

For an older title, this is a largely commendable transfer from Warner Bros.  I only watched the anamorphic widescreen side, and I found it a crisply detailed and sharp picture, with natural colors and no bleeding, and overall, a rather clean looking print.  One or two darker scenes exhibit some grain and murkiness, but those scenes donít linger long enough to prove a distraction. 

Audio **

The soundtrack is in its original mono, and it sounds quite adequate, if not spectacular.  No complaints.

Features (zero stars)

NothingÖand come on, Warner, this isnít even a budget-priced title!

Summary:

Sometimes you need a movie to just make you laugh and smile, and lose yourself in for a couple of hours.  The Goodbye Girl is one of the best of its kind Iíve ever seen.  The story and the characters will win you over thoroughly, and make this a film youíll want to say hello to time and time again.